Macron, Merkel seek common approaches to Trump, euro

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak to reporters ahead of their meeting in Berlin, Germany, November 18, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 18 November 2018
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Macron, Merkel seek common approaches to Trump, euro

  • Macron urged European government to seize more responsibility for their own fate, especially regarding defense

FRANKFURT: French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel consulted Sunday on migration, fixing the euro currency, Europe’s defense, taxing digital companies and other issues as the two leaders looked to preserve their influence abroad while their authority flags at home.
Macron, who came to Berlin to take part in Germany’s national remembrance day for the victims of war and dictatorship, urged European government to seize more responsibility for their own fate, especially regarding defense.
Macron said that the French-German alliance “is invested with this obligation not to allow the world to slide into chaos, and to accompany it on the road of peace.”
He said that Europe can’t play its role “if it doesn’t take more responsibility for its defense and security and is content to play a secondary role on the international scene.”
The two biggest countries in Europe can be a powerful force, but their leaders at the moment are hampered by falling domestic support. Macron has seen his poll ratings sag at home, where more than a quarter-million people protested Saturday over proposed gas tax hikes. Merkel has been a lame duck since saying she wouldn’t seek another term.
Merkel has offered support for Macron’s proposal for a European army. Both leaders have said Europe needs to depend less on others — such as the US — for its defense.
US President Donald Trump has unsettled NATO allies by demanding member countries either pay more for defense or “protect themselves,” as he put it in a recent tweet.
However, ceremonial appearances and warm words offered ahead of a December summit on the euro can’t hide the persistent friction between the French and German approaches to the European Union’s economic issues.
Germany and France have apparently struck a deal on a common budget for the EU countries that use the shared euro currency, something Macron pushed for. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told the dpa news agency the proposal was to be presented to European finance ministers Monday.
The size of the budget — mentioned by French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire as 20 to 25 billion euros — is far short of Macron’s idea. The amount is only 0.2 percent of the eurozone economy, less than the several percentage points of gross domestic product originally mentioned by Macron.
The compromise underscores German reluctance to sign off on anything seen as transferring taxpayer money from richer countries like Germany to more fiscally shaky ones such as Italy or Greece.
The European summit in December is to take up limited proposals to strengthen the euro currency, such as upgrading the eurozone’s bailout fund and a long-term road map for introducing EU-level deposit insurance.
The two sides can’t agree on a tax on digital companies such as Amazon and Google. The French and the European Commission have proposed imposing such a tax, but Scholz said the issue should be left with the 36-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
A European army would be a long-term prospect. Macron was advocating that Europe do more for its own defense, putting him on the same page in many ways with Trump.


UK prime minister in last-minute push to win Brexit support

A European flag and a British Union flag hang outside Europe House, the European Parliament's British offices in London, Monday, March 18, 2019. (AP)
Updated 51 min 1 sec ago
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UK prime minister in last-minute push to win Brexit support

  • May aims to try a third time this week if she can persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds
  • May’s spokesman, James Slack, said Monday that the government would only hold a vote if there is “a realistic prospect of success”

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May was making a last-minute push Monday to win support for her European Union divorce deal, warning opponents that failure to approve it would mean a long — and possibly indefinite — delay to Brexit.
Parliament has rejected the agreement twice, but May aims to try a third time this week if she can persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds. Her aim is to have the deal agreed before EU leaders meet Thursday for a summit in Brussels.
But there was no sign of a breakthrough, and the government faces a deadline of the end of Tuesday to decide whether they have enough votes to pass the deal, so that a vote can be held on Wednesday.
May’s spokesman, James Slack, said Monday that the government would only hold a vote if there is “a realistic prospect of success.”
May is likely to ask for a delay to Brexit at the Brussels summit. If a deal is approved, she says she will ask the EU to extend the deadline until June 30 so that Parliament has time to approve the necessary legislation. If it isn’t, she will have to seek a longer extension that would mean Britain participating in May 23-26 elections for the European Parliament — something the government is keen to avoid.
May’s goal is to win over Northern Ireland’s small, power-brokering Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP’s 10 lawmakers prop up May’s Conservative government, and their support could influence pro-Brexit Conservatives to drop their opposition to the deal.
Still, May faces a struggle to reverse the huge margins of defeat for the agreement in Parliament. It was rejected by 230 votes in January and by 149 votes last week.
Influential Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said he would wait to see what the DUP decided before making up his mind on whether to support May’s deal.
“No deal is better than a bad deal, but a bad deal is better than remaining in the European Union,” he told LBC radio.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Monday he saw “cautious signs of encouragement” that the deal might make it through Parliament this week.
After months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted last week to seek to postpone Brexit. That will likely avert a chaotic British withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29 — although the power to approve or reject a Brexit extension lies with the EU, whose leaders are fed up with British prevarication.
EU leaders say they will only grant it if Britain has a solid plan for what to do with the extra time.
“We have to know what the British want: How long, what is the reason supposed to be, how it should go, what is actually the aim of the extension?” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Brussels. “The longer it is delayed, the more difficult it will certainly be.”
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders agreed, saying: “We are not against an extension in Belgium, but the problem is — to do what?“
Opposition to May’s deal centers on a measure designed to ensure there is no hard border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit.
The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU until a permanent new trading relationship is in place. Brexit supporters in Britain fear the backstop could be used to bind the country to EU regulations indefinitely, and the DUP fears it could lead to a weakening of the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK
Talks between the government and the DUP are aimed at reassuring the party that Britain could not be trapped in the backstop indefinitely.
May said in an article for the Sunday Telegraph that failure to approve the deal meant “we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever.”
“The idea of the British people going to the polls to elect MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) three years after voting to leave the EU hardly bears thinking about,” she wrote.
But May suffered a setback Monday when former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson refused to support her deal.
Johnson, a staunch Brexiteer, used his column in the Daily Telegraph to argue that the backstop left the UK vulnerable to “an indefinite means of blackmail” by Brussels.